Exploring the Natural World of the Balkan Peninsula
Lesson Activities

INTRODUCTORY ACTIVITY:

1. Let students know that today they will be learning about the natural environments and wildlife of the Balkan Peninsula. Display a map of the world and challenge students to locate the countries which are partially or completely located in the Balkan Peninsula. [Countries include: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Italy (small area around the city of Trieste), Kosovo, The Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Turkey.]

2. Show students a map of the Balkan Peninsula regions. (Here is one map you can use) Ask students to brainstorm what types of natural environments and wildlife live in the Balkan Peninsula. Write down student responses to review later.

3. Distribute the “Regions of the Balkan Peninsula” student organizer. Ask students to use the Wild Balkans interactive map to locate the following regions and find out at least two facts about the terrain and/or wildlife of each:

  • Delta Dunarii (Danube Delta)
  • Dobrudza
  • Durmitor
  • Kopacki Rit
  • Skadar Lake
  • Tara River
  • Tikves

4. Ask students to write their information in the “Regions of the Balkan Peninsula” student organizer.

5. Discuss student findings. Refer to the “Regions of the Balkan Peninsula” answer key, as needed.

LEARNING ACTIVITY 1

1. Divide students in to groups of 3-4 students each. Explain that each group will now view a video segment from the PBS program Nature: Wild Balkans to explore the habitats and wildlife of the Balkan Peninsula in more detail. Ask each group to pick one of the regions discussed in the Introductory Activity and its corresponding video segment below:

Note: It is fine if multiple groups select the same region.

Access the downloadable and streamable videos at the Video Segments Page.

Note: If you do not have access to multiple computers where multiple groups can view the clips, select two of the segments and show them to all the students. Ask half the students to create a presentation about one of the regions, highlighting the main points presented in the segment and ask the rest of the students to do the same about the other region. (If using this approach, Delta Dunarii and Durmitor would be two good segments to view.)

2. Ask each group to view its assigned video segment and record information about the following:

  • the location of the region
  • the habitat
  • the wildlife
  • factors that help species survive in this environment (cooperation with other species, etc.)
  • the role (if any) of humans in this environment
  • additional interesting facts about the region

3. Ask each group to create a presentation about its region.

4. Ask each group to give its presentation to the group.

5. Discuss the information featured in the students’ presentations. During the discussion ask students to compare and contrast the different regions.

Possible information to include in the discussion:

Danube Delta (Delta Dunarii)
  • Europe’s most extensive wetland; stretches between Romania and Ukraine.
  • Features a maze of islands, lakes and forests.
  • World’s largest reed habitat.
  • Home to 1,000 different plants and more than 4,000 animal species.
  • Largest pelican colony outside of Africa; includes Dalmatian and white pelicans. Every summer, 4,000 breeding pairs of pelicans fly north from Africa to nest in the Danube Delta.  The millions of mosquitoes located in the Delta help protect the pelicans.
  • Mosquitoes are the base of the food chain and play a key role in the Delta’s ecosystem.
  • European minks, the most endangered carnivore in Europe, inhabit the Delta.
  • Millions of birds migrate from the artic to spend the winter in the Delta.
  • Whooper swans from Northern Europe flock together in huge numbers.
  • Almost all of the world’s red-breasted geese migrate to the Danube Delta from Siberia.
  • Humans are the rarest species in the Delta Danube. Least densely populated region in Europe. Tourists only come in spring and summer. Human residents harvest fish and reeds.
  • Harvest mice use reeds for nesting material and food.
  • European starlings fly near each other, in large flocks, but avoid collisions.
Dobrudza
  • Steppes (vast grasslands).
  • Located in Northeastern tip of the Balkan Peninsula.
  • Only a few subsistence farmers live in the region; they use horse-drawn ploughs.
  • Mixture of fertile fields and fallow, uncultivated ground; wild poppies and cornflowers grow in May, since farmers use little fertilizer and no pesticides.
  • Peasant farmers and nomadic shepherds of many ethnic groups live in Dobrudza.
  • Sheep graze the grass, making it an ideal habitat for specialized steppe dwellers like European ground squirrels.
  • Thousands of rosy starlings traveled west from India and ended up in a stone quarry in Dobrudza; they need rock faces to nest and breed.
  • Additional Species include: stone curlews, European bee eaters (bright feathers), bees, wasps.
Durmitor

(includes Tara River)

  • Located in the north of Montenegro.
  • Features an ancient forest populated by black pines which are the last of their kind in Europe. The trees help protect the wildlife that lives there.
  • Forest clings to steep mountain slopes.
  • Has the deepest gorges and chasms in the Balkans.
  • Remote and wild area; nature thrives; designated as a national park.
  • Honey buzzards feed on larvae in wasp nests or other prey.
  • Includes the Canyon of the Tara River. European otter feeds on river trout.
  • Tara canyon is the deepest and longest in all of Europe (almost 10,000 feet deep and 50 miles long).
  • Because the Tara River’s water is turquoise blue and clear like teardrops, locals call it  “Europe’s tear.”
  • Humans: Hiking trails and hostels are being built for limited tourism. Some people, mainly women, live and work on a desolate plateau in Durmitor.
  • Additional Species: wolves; black woodpecker, brown bear, lynx (largest of Europe’s wild cats).
Kopacki Rit
  • Located in Eastern Croatia.
  • One of Europe’s most extensive and important wetlands.
  • One of the largest and oldest river forests along the Danube grows in Kopacki Rit.
  • Seasonally rising water causes large parts of the forest to flood approximately three months each year.
  • Former war zone; some land mines remain. People used to hunt in Kopacki Rit, but now, because of fear of mines, hunters no longer come, making it safer for Kopacki Rit’s wildlife.
  • Wild boars have a very well-developed sense of smell and are skilled at avoiding mines.
  • More than 260 species of birds (including great crested grebes and white-tailed eagles) and more than 40 species of fish live in Kopacki Rit.
  • Additional Species: snakes, frogs.
Skadar Lake
  • Located in Montenegro and Albania and is a national park in both countries.
  • The largest lake in the Balkans (about 30 miles long and 9 miles wide).
  • One of the most important resting and breeding grounds for migratory birds in Europe.
  • Includes many islands, some of which have ruins of monasteries and fortresses.
  • Dense reed beds grow along the shore.
  • Floating water lilies provide a safe breeding ground for terns and frogs.
  • Cormorant use dead trees for their nests; young cormorants eat regurgitated fish from their parents’ gullets.
  • Egrets, spoonbills and other species breed in mixed colonies. This collective breeding gives more security to all, since there are greater numbers of birds looking out for predators and the chicks can remain hidden.
  • Additional Species: black-crowned night herons and squawker herons.
Tikves
  • Located in Macedonia.
  • Inhospitable, desolate and almost uninhabited; barren and wind-swept.
  • Rocky, mountainous terrain.
  • The Balkans’ last stronghold of vultures (griffon vultures); griffon vultures like living in these rocky mountains where they can be carried high with little effort thanks to the thermal updrafts.
  • Ravens, wolves and vultures compete for food.
  • The Macedonian government feeds the vultures regularly to help increase the population.
  • Additional Species: wolves, raven

6. After the discussion, review the list that students compiled at the beginning of the lesson with their thoughts about the habitats and wildlife of the Balkans. Discuss how the items on the list compare with what they now know about the Balkan Peninsula.

CULMINATING ACTIVITY

1. Ask students, working alone or in pairs, to select one species found in one of the regions of the Balkan Peninsula. Ask students to gather information about the species, including where it lives in the Balkan Peninsula, what it eats and what poses a threat to the species.

Possible species students could research include:

asprete

Balkan lynx

black-crowned night heron

black woodpecker

brown bear

cormorants

Dalmatian pelican

eastern imperial eagle

egrets

European bee eater

European ground squirrels

European mink

European otter

great crested grebe

griffon vultures

harvest mice

Hermanns tortoise

honey buzzard

humans

mosquitoes

olm

raven

river trout

red-breasted goose

rosy starlings

spoonbill

squawker heron

stone curlew

tern

wolf

white-tailed eagle

white pelican

wild boa

2. Ask students to create a 3-D diorama or computer-animated model to illustrate the environment where the species lives, what it preys on and what poses a threat to the species, based on the information the students gathered during their research.

3. Ask each group to present its work to the class and lead a discussion about what it discovered about the species and its habitat.

4. Lead a discussion with the class, encouraging students to share facts they learned about the natural world of the Balkan Peninsula.

  • Robert

    The show poses in 2010 that no one knows if the rosy starlings will return to the stone quarry next year.

    Does anyone know if they returned?

Inside This Lesson

Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2014 THIRTEEN Productions LLC. All rights reserved.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.